Home Television Drama Play for Today

Play for Today

1 9 7 0 – 1 9 8 4 (UK)
306 x 60/75 minute episodes

This British television anthology drama series aired on BBC1 between 1970 and 1984. The series featured original television plays and adaptations of stage plays and novels.

Some of the actors who appeared in the televised plays over the years included Donald Pleasence, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Ian Richardson, Julie Walters, Liam Neeson, John Hurt, Edward Woodward, John Thaw, George Cole, Frank Finlay, Alastair Sim, Ben Kingsley, Nigel Havers, John Le Mesurier, Hywel Bennett, Warren Mitchell, Thora Hird, Queenie Watts, Patrick Troughton, Fulton Mackay, Paula Wilcox, Pauline Collins, Kenneth Branagh, John Alderton, Joss Ackland, Patrick Magee, Tim Curry, Dandy Nichols, Michael Gambon, Annette Crosbie, Sheila Hancock, Richard Wilson, Jim Broadbent, Leonard Rossiter, Bill Nighy, Anthony Hopkins, Leo McKern, Alan Bates, Eleanor Bron, Jean Marsh, John Lyons, Hannah Gordon, Amanda Barrie, Adrienne Corri, Richard Beckinsale, Martin Shaw, Dennis Waterman, Alison Steadman, Brian Glover, Pauline Quirke, Phil Davis, Linda Robson, Colin Jeavons, Georgina Hale, Geoffrey Palmer, Colin Welland, Peter Firth, David Threlfall and Billy Connolly (pictured below right).

A number of the plays, including Rumpole of the Bailey and Boys from the Blackstuff, went on to become successful television series’ in their own right.

Play For Today spawned the insidiously creepy rural horror ‘Robin Redbreast’ in which Norah (Anna Cropper), a London script editor, moves to a remote country cottage to rebuild her life after a break-up. The locals seem friendly if a bit odd.

Odd turns to sinister when Norah gets pregnant by a hunky gamekeeper (Andy Bradford) and paranoia starts closing in fast.

Lindsay Anderson’s 1972 production of David Storey’s Home, with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, was set in a mental asylum, though this fact only emerged as the story progressed. The hugely challenging message was that the delusions of the psychologically unwell were not so different to those of the broader population.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Sandford’s Edna, the Inebriate Woman (1971) tackled the emerging problem of homelessness. A year later, Alan Clarke’s A Life Is Forever examined the toll of spending time behind bars.

Mike Leigh’s towering dissection of middle-class scruples, Abigail’s Party, (pictured above) was broadcast in the slot in 1977, some six months after its stage debut.

The unnerving genius of Dennis Potter was likewise beamed into living rooms via his 1979 work Blue Remembered Hills, in which adults portrayed children.